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A Sitz for the Gospel of Mark? A critical reaction to Bauckham's theory on the universality of the Gospels

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The aim of this paper is to evaluate the article by Richard Bauckham, in which he challenges the current consensus in New Testament scholarship that the gospels were written for and addressed to specific believing communities. The thesis that
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  HTS 56(4) 2000   968   A Sitz for the Gospel of Mark? A critical reaction to Bauckham’s theory on the universality of the Gospels 1   Ernest van Eck  Research associate: Department of New TestamentUniversity of Pretoria AbstractA Sitz for the Gospel of Mark? A critical reaction to Bauck- ham’s theory on the universality of the Gospels    The aim of this paper is to evaluate the article by Richard Bauckham, in which hechallenges the current consensus in New Testament scholarship that the gospelswere written for and addressed to specific believing communities. The thesis thatBauckham puts forward is that the gospels were written with the intention of beingcirculated as widely as possible  –  it was written for every Christian community of the late first century where the gospels might circulate. First, a Wirkungs-geschichte   of Mark’s gospel in terms of the possible localities of srcin and the possible theological intentions for writing the Gospel, that is, of the results of thecurrent consensus in New Testament scholarship, is give n. Bauckham’s theory is then put on the table and evaluated. 1. INTRODUCTORY REMARKS The aim of this paper is to evaluate the most recent article of Richard Bauckham in whichhe challenges the current consensus in New Testament scholarship that the gospels were written for, and addressed to, specific believing communities. Bauckham’s thesis in short is that the gospels were written with the intention to be circulated as widely as possible  –   it was written for every Christian community of the late first century to which the gospels 1   Dr Ernest van Eck (MA, DD) participated as research associate in the project “Biblical Theology andHermeneutics”, directed by Prof Dr A G van Aarde. This article is a revised edition of a paper read at the  NTSSA, on 29 March 2000 at the Rand Afrikaans University.    Ernest van EckHTS 56(4) 2000   969   might circulate. In evaluating Bauckham’s thesis a Wirkungsgeschichte   of Mark’s gospel in terms of the possible localities of srcin and the possible theological intentions for thewriting of the Gospel are first given, that is, the results of the current consensus in New Testament scholarship (Section 2). In sections 3 and 4 Bauckham’s theory is put on thetable and evaluated. In the final section the question is asked if Bauckham’s theory is convincing enough to depart from the current consensus in New Testament scholarshipwith regard to the addressees of the gospels. 2. SITZ AND REASON FOR THE GOSPEL OF MARK? Rome, Syria and Galilee represent the most significant alternatives for a possible  setting    of Mark’s gospel in past and current Markan scholarship. Since in Markan research the possible reasons for the writing of the Gospel are usually linked to a specific proposedsetting for the Gospel, in what follows the possible settings for the Gospel will bediscussed alongside possible reasons for the writing of the Gospel. First, attention will begiven to Rome as a possible setting (since it represents the old consensus concerning thesrcin of Mark). Following the Roman proposal, the arguments for Syria and Palestine(Galilee) as possible settings for Mark will be discussed 2 .   2.1 Rome as the setting of Mark’s gospel   The earliest and most significant witness to a Roman srcin of the Gospel is from the lostwork of Papias,  Exegesis of the Lord’s oracles ( c 140 CE ), quoted by Eusebius (263-339 CE ) in his  Historia Ecclesiastica 3.39.15: And this the Presbyter used to say: Mark indeed, since he was the interpreter ( hermeneutes) of Peter, wrote accurately, but not in order, the things either said and done by the Lord, as much as he remembered. For he neither heardthe Lord nor followed him, but afterwards, as I have said, [heard andfollowed] Peter, who fitted his discourses to the needs [of his hearers] but not as making narrative of the Lord’s sayings; consequently, Mark, writ ing some 2 The provenances of Rome, Syria and Galilee are, of course, not the only settings that have been proposedin Markan scholarship. Schulz (1964), for example, argues for a Decapolis setting for the Gospel. Schrei- ber (1967) proposes a setting in Tirus, Sidon or the Decapolis, and Köster (1957) argues for a settingsomewhere in Asia Minor or Greece. Since the settings of Rome, Syria and Galilee, however, are the most prominent in Markan scholarship, only these three provenances for Mark will be attended to.  A Sitz for the Gospel of Mark? 970   HTS 56(4) 2000   things just as he remembered, erred in nothing; for he was careful of one thing  –  not to omit anything of the things he heard or to falsify anything in them.(Eusebius,  Historia Ecclesiastica 3.39.15, in Duling & Perrin 1994:296) The core of this tradition affirms that the author of the Gospel was a man namedMark, that he was the interpreter of Peter, and, although he was not a follower (eyewit-ness) of Jesus, that he wrote down accurately the remembrances of Peter.Other (later) patristic witne sses repeat certain of Papias’ statements, and make explicit what is only implied in his writing. In the so-called  Anti-Marcionite Prologue ( c  160-180 CE ) Mark is named as Peter’s interpreter who worked in the regions of Italy. Irenaeus ( c 130 CE ) assert s that Mark was Peter’s disciple and interpreter who wrote in Rome after the death of Peter and Paul. Clement of Alexandria ( c 215 CE ) and Origin ( c  250 CE ) add significant amplifications to the above patristic tradition: according toClement, Peter knew of Mark’s writing, and Origin states that Peter even instructed Mark  to write the Gospel (see Vander Broek 1983:9-10).Proponents of the Roman setting attempt to support the above external evidencethat Mark wrote the second Gospel in Rome with the following internal evidence: the “Mark” referred to by Papias is most likely John Mark that is referred to in Acts. In Actsit is said that the early Christians frequently gathered in Mark’s mother’s house in Jerusalem, that Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey toAsia Minor but left them and returned to Jerusalem, and then accompanied Barnabas on amission to Cyprus (see Ac 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; 15:37-40). Mark is also mentioned in thePauline literature: Philemon 24 states that Paul sends greetings from Mark. He is alsomentioned in the deutero-Pauline document Colossians (Col 4:10), and in 2 Timothy 1:17and 4:11 Mark is placed with Paul in prison, most likely in Rome. Thus, in these writingsa Paul-Mark-Rome connection can be inferred. In 1 Peter 5:13, however, Mark is referred to as “my son Mark”. In other words, Peter, not Paul, is associated with Mark, as in Papias. According to Duling & Perrin(1994:297), there is, however, a similarity between the 1 Peter and the Pauline tradition inthat 1 Peter is sent from  Babylon , the symbolic name for Rome in Christian apocalyptic    Ernest van EckHTS 56(4) 2000   971   literature beginning in the late first century, since both Rome (70 CE ) and Babylon (587 BCE ) are remembered for destroying Jerusalem.Beginning with the Papias tradition, the external and internal evidence in regard tothe srcin of Mark is thus clear: the second Gospel was written by Mark (as interpreter of Peter) in Rome (after the death of Peter and Paul) 3 .  Is there a kernel of truth in the Papias tradition? The following arguments (inter-nal and external) can be put forward to answer this question positively (see inter alia  Vander Broek 1983:10-12; Matera 1987:4-7; Van Eck 1990:2-4; Duling & Perrin 1994:297-298):If Mark was chosen by second century Christians only to give the Gospelauthority, why did they choose a follower of Paul rather than a disciple of Jesus(like Matthew)?The Gospel displays evidence of a Petrine eyewitness account. Peter is describedas the most prominent disciple in the Gospel (e g Mk 1:16-18, 29-31; 8:27-9:1;9:2-8, 14), certain phrases and descriptions in Mark are so vivid they seem to havecome from an eyewitness (eg Mk 3:5; 5:32; 6:39), and Peter is sometimes pictured as the only disciple that accompanies Jesus (Mk 14:32-37);Mark contains the most Latinisms of all the Gospels (e g Mk 4:21; 5:9; 15), andAramaic language terms and phrases are explained (eg Mk 5:41; 7:34; 10:46;14:36; 15:34);Mark reckons time in Roman style (see Mk 6:48; 13:35);Jewish customs are explained (Mk 7:3-4; 10:12);Mark shows a strong interest in the Gentile mission (Mk 7:24-30); andthe Gospel is imprecise about Palestinian geography (Mk 5:1; 6:45, 53; 7:31). 3   Aside from the evidence in the tradition that the Gospel was written after the death of Peter, the Gospel’s emphasis on suffering and endurance (see Mk 8:34-38; 10:38-45; 13:9-13) is usually seen as an indicationof the date for Mark. In Rome persecution of the Christians took place under Nero in 64 CE , and thus a date  between 64 and 70 is commonly accepted. Also, if Rome is accepted as place of srcin, the “desolatingsacrilege” in Mark 13:14 might have symbolized Nero.  A Sitz for the Gospel of Mark? 972   HTS 56(4) 2000   There are, however, also certain problems with the Papias tradition:Although the Gospel gives no information concerning the author, date and provenance, the Patristic witnesses purport to know all three. How trustworthyare, therefore, the Papias tradition, and, for that matter, the  Anti-Marcionite Prologue and the writings of Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Origin (seeVander Broek 1983:12)? 4   the description of “Mark” in Papias sounds defensive, and the tradition shows anapologetic tendency (Peter wrote “accurately”, “erred in nothing”, “not to omit or falsify”; see Duling & Perrin 1994:298);Mark, who was not a disciple of Jesus, is connected with a disciple, Peter (Duling& Perrin 1994:298). Moreover, it seems that the connection between Mark andPeter is based primarily on 1 Peter 5:13 (Vander Broek 1983:15);the Latinisms, the explanation of Jewish customs, the Roman style of reckoningwith time, as well as the imprecision in regard to Palestine geography could beexplained as being part of the traditions used by the evangelist, or as part of theoral tradition;suffering and persecution did occur in several places in the Christian church in the 60’s and early 70’s, not only in Rome. Taking into account the reaction fromYavneh in the early 70’s 5 , and the emergence of formative Judaism as a result of the reorganization of Judaism taken up by Yavneh, the persecution of Christianscould well have been coming from Jews;the Greek of the Gospel is unsophisticated, and, though it contains Latinisms, alsocontains Semitic (Hebrew or Aramaic) language influences. The document is also 4 A comparison of all the Patristic witnesses indicates that Papias is the basic source from which all theothers drew. Yet, not all the patristic sources indicate that the Gospel was written in Rome, and a tendencyto associate Peter closer and closer with the writing of the Gospel can be detected as the tradition developed(see Vander Broek 1983:12-14; Matera 1987:4-5). 5 Recent studies of the Judaic-Tannaitic writings, which had their srcin in the post-70 CE reformed, officialJudaism at Yavneh under the leadership of Johanan ben Zakkai and Gamaliel II, suggests that the belief inthe divine birth of Jesus, as well as in his resurrection were the fundamental reasons why the Yavnehscribes regarded Jewish Christians as a heretical grouping inside Judaism. This lead to the circulation of anti-Christian pronouncements, the issuing of a prohibition against reading of heretical books (S ifre Minim )and the promulgation of the  Birkat ha-Minim (which implied the excommunication from the synagogue;see e g John 9:22; 12:42; Katz 1984:45-47; Overman 1990:38-43).
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